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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Session Musician 101

It's a good time for another book excerpt, this time from one that I've neglected on this blog - The Studio Musician's Handbook. Here's a little from chapter 9, entitled "Session Musician 101."

YOUR MUSICALITY - Ears, Chops and Feel
Studio musicians are known for their musicality, which consists of your ears, chops, and feel, as well as your judgment. Session players have enough experience to know what to play and when to play it. They know how to best interact with the artist, other musicians, the engineer, and the producer to make the session the most efficient and fun. They have an innate feel for how to make you and your song sound great. Let’s take a look at some of the musicality attributes that you’ll need.

Your Chops
Studio musicians are expected to be creative, extremely versatile, and have a formidable skill set. They’re usually the best players in town. Overall, the session musician is playing to a recording medium where there is little or no entertaining involved. Playing live is all about entertainment and finesse gives way to the crowd and the heat of the moment. The same musician will come from a different place in the studio and will need to utilize finesse and restraint to create a different “feel” than when playing live. And there is a completely different set of challenges on a session. Live music terminates in the air and is a series of “snapshot” moments. Sessions can be seen as opportunities to create musical “building blocks” that terminate on recorded media and are meant to be frozen in time forever. That’s why session musicians fare just as well in the live idiom as everyone else. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the majority of musicians who cull most of their experience playing live.

Your Technique – Purity, Not Perfection
Successful session musicians all have an innate feel for their instrument(s). Their actual technique may not be textbook perfect, but they all have a way of sounding great when they play. Studio musicians know how to make their instruments sound “right” for the song, cue or jingle. They know just what axe to use and are capable of responding to direction in a way that yields audible results that are more than pleasing to producers’, engineers’ and artists’ ears. Session players are also remarkably consistent in that they can play a part many times over without losing the fire or feel. There’s a zone all session players strive for, where they’re hitting the note and the groove just right and are capable of sustaining that moment and repeating a performance as many times as it takes until that voice from the control says “We got it!! Excellent!”

Your Reading
Your ability to read music will determine the type of sessions you can play on. For record dates, the ability to read and transcribe lead sheets is essential, but many other sessions like jingles and television and movie scores require expert sight reading.

To illustrate the reading abilities of session players, here’s a story about the late Tommy Tedesco, one of the most recorded guitar players ever and charter member of the famed Los Angeles studio band The Wrecking Crew during the 60’s and 70’s. Tommy was playing on a Jan & Dean date when, as a joke, singer Jan Berry turned Tommy’s music upside down on the stand. The take started and Tommy proceeded to play the backwards score note for note. A frustrated Berry yanked the page off the stand and said, “You’re just showing off!”

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Anonymous said...

pleasure to find such a good artical! please keep update!!

Stefano said...

Excellent post as usual, especially the difference between playing live and playing on a session.


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